Sunday, 6 October 2019

Back to local safaris

The Safari can't believe what's happening -two posts in almost as manny days...what's going on???
We had a quick afternoon out with CR, more of a dog walk really, without our camera up at Rossall. There'd been a couple of good pics of a returning Purple Sandpiper by top dollar photo duo D & JM so we thought we'd go and have a shuffy. Due to wet weather and bad light we didn't take a camera, even CR only took his 'easy-to-stash 
-in-the-event-of-inclement-weather' 300mm. Walking along the promenade the beach adjacent was pretty quiet with just the occasional Sanderling working the incoming tide and a couple of Ringed Plovers being spotted until a very nicely marked winter plumage Grey Plover dropped in on the water's edge fairly close by. Several, at least five, very active Wheatears kept us on our toes - could we turn any of them into a different kind of Wheatear a la the Pauls - the answer, a resounding no they were all 'normal' Wheatears.
It wasn't until we were almost at the new seawall that we came across the Purple Sandpipers - yes plural! Now there were two of them. And fairly tame they were too running around together on the higher parts of the wall not yet covered by the rising waters. Despite the grotty light it wasn't raining and how we wished we'd bitten the bullet and brought a camera. As the tide rose they skipped off the beach and started running around the promenade coming within a few feet of us if we stood still - they weren't even phased by the presence of a certain large black dog provided he remained fairly still too. C got some pretty good pics and we resolved to get back there ASAP when the light was better and there was less of a threat of rain.
Our chance came two afternoons later. This time the walk down the prom was worryingly quiet but once we got closer to the new seawall we could see a birder so our hopes were raised. It was local lad K who kindly put us on to the (now) single Purple Sandpiper hugging the very base of  the seawall below our feet. It get anything like a shot involved very precariously lying down and leaning as far over the wall as we dared hoping our feet were heavy enough to counterbalance the not insubstantial extra weight of the 600mm lens! Our dare paid off and we were rewarded with this intimate shot of it preening unaware of us peering down at it only five or six feet above. Had the worst happened we'd have landed on it with a dull thud and that would have been the end of both it and us!
One advantage of leaning over the wall was that we had the opportunity to be the 'right side' of the light when the sun briefly shone
As the tide came in its favoured areas were being covered and it moved to a new part of the wall but tended to stick very close to the wall's base. Now we were able to wander down the nearest slipway and get 'eye-level' with it at the risk of getting wet feet from the larger incoming waves if we took our eye off them. Here it gleaned small flies off the wall and Sandhoppers from the tiny bit of still exposed beach on the few occasions it ventured away from the wall.
After a while it got fed up or became full up and flitted up onto the nearest groyne for a bit of rest offering some pretty good photo opportunities allowing us the chance to get easily our best ever pics of this species. It's a shame the sun didn't break through the clouds while it was sat up there so some hint of purple could be seen on its plumage.
The following morning we picked up CR again this time heading to Marton Mere for a mooch around. We'd been a couple of days earlier but not seen much apart from hearing a good number of Cetti's Warblers. This morning we were hoping there'd been an overnight arrival of Redwings as some had been reported as passing over the previous night, we'd had a listen when out later with Monty but unfortunately heard zilch, their thin 'tseeeep' is one of THE sounds of autumn.
It wasn't to be, the walk up to the embankment was very quiet apart from the odd ticking Robin here and there.
Along the embankment we started to hear Cetti's Warblers but they weren't as vocal as on our previous visit.
From the Bird Club Hide we had a male Sparrowhawk set down on a clump of cut reed after narrowly failing to catch a Snipe and upsettting about two dozen Teal on the scrape in the process. Over in the distance there was a Buzzard on the barn - we don't often see Buzzards actually on buildings, fence posts yes barns no! A male Kestrel hovered over the field in front of the barn - a three raptor view - not bad! and a couple of Stock Dove sat on the opposite end of the barn to the Buzzard - very wise!
Moving down to Heron Hide (aka Ice Station Zebra for its notable 'warmth' in the winter months) it was a relief to see there was a bit of view down a channel through the reeds (Typha). It'll be better if the roosting Starlings get over that way and crush the standing reeds over and then we get a bit of frost on them too. There was a bit of duck and Coot action but best of all, for us at least, was our first sighting of a Great Crested Grebe there this year, although to be fair we've not been for a few months over the summer silly season.
Drake Gadwall
Drake Shoveler coming out of eclipse plumage
Female Tufted Ducks
At the bench and viewing platform the Volunteer Rangers have recently constructed we admired the exceptional view of the water and reedbeds hoping to spot a Bittern or an Otter. We didn't but it won't be long before we do as it's in the perfect position - Thank you.
While we were there TS came along and told us of the wondrous sightings he'd had over the summer while we've been keeping away including a stunning close encounter with a Hobby catching dragonflies, a fantastic experience. He's done well this summer! While we were chatting a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over us.
It was now time to spend some time in the Feeding Station where it was quite lively but not up to full winter blitz yet. A Coal Tit was probably star of the show among the Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Dunnocks and single Chaffinch and ubiquitous Grey Squirrel. Easy winner of the cuteness competition was this young Rabbit that grazed away  few feet from the window occasionally glancing in our direction when it heard the camera shutters clicking.
The scrub in the main part of the reserve was largely devoid of birds despite the Hawthorns being bedecked with berries there weren't even any Blackbirds making themselves obvious. Despite the concerns about pollinator numbers it seems they've been busy this spring as the trees, Rowans, Whitebeams etc, are bursting woth berries. It's such a shame that on our tor out to the east through the farming country there's barely a berry left on mile upon mile of wayside and field boundary hedge as they've almost all been hacked back by the farmers already - come on farmers you can do better than this.
Our journey away from the coast was to local scenic site Beacon Fell Country Park, again mostly a dog walk so we didn't take the camera which was jst as well as it lashed it down most of the time we were there and we saw precious little wildlife apart from a very quick Robin and heard a few Goldcrests in the conifer plantations.
A couple of wnters ago a torndo type ofwind tore through a significant part of the forest downing many trees and damaging others. One such damaged tree has been turned in to a beautiful Golden Eagle. We'd love to see a real one soaring over the skies of Lancashire but with the intense illegal persecution on the grouse moors across the valley that sight is sadly very unlikely...but maybe one day you never know...Sign here to help eagles (and other birds of prey) survive in Lancashire
A few yards along the soggy trail a bright red thing caught our eye, a plastic sweet wrapper? Surely not, indeed not; a very bright fungus and not just one of them some others just pushing through the leaf litter too. We think it's Russula emetica but it could be one of the other Russula species not something we've come across for man years. Bonny whatever it is and the slugs seem to like it.
As we were nearing the car park on our return from the summit viewpoint a flock of finches erupted from the tree-tops and annoyingly went the wrong way back up the hill towards the summit and disappeared into the thickest part of the forest. There were about two dozen and from the loud excitable calls we'd say they were Crossbills, a return visit in better weather conditions is required.
A very wet but not pleasurable afternoon on the hill.

Where to next? News of a Kentish Plover on the South-side is very tempting, not seen one for a long time.

In the meantime let us know let us know who's flitting around the tree-tops in your outback.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Where the vultures circle

The Safari has been out n about over the last six weeks or more - Honest!!!
Late summer brought a minor flurry to our Photo Year List Challenge with a surprise early birthday present in the form of a Garganey on the somewhat incongruous site of Stanley Park lake, we would have expected it to be happier out in the wilds at nearby Marton Mere Nature Reserve but no it was quite happy with walkers, dogs, cyclists, joggers, fishermen within a few feet. Not a new species to add to our challenge tally but a high quality replacement for the distant duffer earlier in the year. 

A couple of days later some promising rough weather had us down on the cliffs looking for seabirds. The conditions promised a lot more than they delivered but we did just about manage a pic of one of the handful of Common Scoters (PYLC 158) that were just about in range of the scope on 50x magnification and the phone at 2.5x making 125x altogether.
The weather died down and our 60th birthday jaunt with CR and the Scouse gang was looking good until the morning arrived and our plans had to change from going to the South Lakes to look for snakes and reptiles to bunking in half way at RSPB Leighton Moss -yep it was cold and wet! Yuk!
There was little on offer at the Allen Hide but just as we were thinking of upping sticks and moving on a small flock of small waders flew by, circled and flipped over the embankment on to the other pool. "Anyone else see that white rump?" we asked - Yep was the reply - - so off we all trotted tout suite to the Eric Morecambe Hide where we asked if anyone had seen the Curlew Sandpiper come in? No they hadn't but after a bit of searching we found one then another on the far bank.
Curlew Sandpiper (PYLC 159)
The rest of our visit was spent dodging the rain and not seeing much at all with water levels after all the recent rain being a bit too high, still you'd have thought an Otter or an Osprey might have put in appearance. But never mind the lack of wildlife (there wasn't really a lack there was plenty to see just the 'specialities' didn't put on a show for us) it was still a great day out with great company and lots of laughs.
The following day saw us up Rossall Tower with the Wildlife Trust's Living Seas Team helping out with their monthly seawatch where it was a fairly quiet watch with just a couple of distant seals providing the mammalian action. A flock of Sandwich Terns flew by close enough for a few snaps and we got an improvement on our 'roosting a hell of a long way down the beach' shot earlier in the moth for our Challenge.
We really don't know why we struggle to get better pics of these as they're fairly common visitors to the coast here and often fish very close inshore.
September started with a bang when a couple of Fylde Bird Club stalwarts discovered an oddball Wheatear on the seawall near Pilling. Word on the street was it was a female Eastern Black Eared Wheatear but then doubt crept in, could it a female Pied Wheatear or even a hybrid???? It took a couple of days for us to be able to get the time to nip up the few miles taking CR with us. If it turned out to be the former former species it would be a British Isles Lifer for us, if not it was another good and unexpected bird for our Challenge.
When we arrived Leighton Moss's JC told us it was lurking under a rock and not looking that healthy so get a shimmy on! He was right it didn't look good at all.
But thankfully when the sun came out it perked up enough to leave it's roosting crevice and go foraging  along the rocks defending the seawall.
There were several 'ordinary' Wheatears poking around the rocks too. 
After a few days news broke that it was indeed a Black Eared Wheatear (PYLC 160) due to a tiny pale smudge being seen on a mantle feather showing in one of the hundreds of photos taken of the wandering stray.
Also present that day was a rather flighty juvenile Cuckoo (PYLC 161).
From social media earlier in the spring we got the impression that Cuckoos were having a slightly better year compared to recent times but a quick look on Birdtrack shows they have been just about 'normal' this year with fewer reported in the second half of their short season. And that on the back of a major decline in recent years. For every one we see now there were four and five when we started birding - a sorry state of affairs for this iconic species. They need an upturn in their fortunes and quickly!

A sorry state of affairs for youngsters growing up having so few opportunities to hear them nowadays. With the State of Nature report showing an increasing lack of biodiversity in Britain we owe it to future generations that birds like the Cuckoo are not lost from our landscape and soundscape - that's if you can hear them above the noise of all the traffic pollution! 

A few days later the weather had turned seriously for the worse again and that brought Leach's Petrels to our coast. We always look forward to seeing these tiny storm driven waifs but chatting to SD on one of the National hale & Dolphin Watches he said he'd actually rather not see them given weather and sea conditions they've have had to contend with to be spotted by land-bound birders and we totally get where he's coming from.
However out to the cliffs wrapped up in as many layers of waterproofs as we could muster we went. After an hour and a half of seeing nothing at all a dark speck briefly jinked over a wave - was it? Wasn't it? It was, out of a trough for a few seconds the little dark 2 oz scrap of feathers appeared before being lost in the tumult of the crashing waves again. No chance of a pic. But with the wind not letting up we got another chance with a visit to Rossall Point where we were lucky enough to get almost prolonged views of one as it came across the bay then dropped on to the sea for a rest in some sheltered slack water by the point before continuing on its way to the southern Atlantic.
Leach's Petrel (PYLC 162)
From then on until we hit the sunny shores of Menorca in mid October we were unable to add any more birds to our Challenge tally.

Minutes after leaving the airport in the coach to our resort we picked up the first Red Kites, Egyptian Vultures and Booted Eagles of our holiday. All unphotographable as our camera was still stashed somewhere in the luggage.
We got to Cala Galdana, our temporary Base Camp for the next 10 days, around lunchtime and after a swift unpack we hit the beach - how good was it to get in the warm waters of the Med again although the water wasn't particularly clear as fierce thunderstorms had only just finished and a lot of floodwater had been torrenting down the hillsides combining with strong winds to make the water murky.
Still it didn't take long, a couple of minutes!, to find our first Audouin's Gull, or did it find us? Woodpigeons and Collared Doves poked around the tourists near the trees at the back of the beach and were to darker doves disappearing in to the tops of the pines and not seen again Turtle Doves?
The following morning we were on the beach before breakfast and found a couple of Audouin's Gulls on the prowl for left overs. They are a pretty gull, mus tbe the dark eye.
 Like many gulls, they're not shy!
The Yellow Legged Gulls however were shy and not pretty - must be that fierce looking pale eye.
Also in town were a handful of Bee Eaters but they were mostly frequenting the electricity cables that stretch high across the gorge so getting a pic without the 'hand of man' for the Challenge was tricky. For reasons of space and weight we'd only taken our 18-300mm lens and for these and some of the other species we came across the 150-600mm would have been a better choice.
we were told by other birders that they'd seen Blue Rock Thrush on the crags below the wires but despite lots of searching all week we never caight a glimpse of them. 
One of the Target Species were the local Egyptian Vultures we seen in the barranco running north from Cala Galdana about 10 - 12 years ago on our last visit. We hoped they were still there. They were but we were getting up too early and the morning mists made spotting them on the distant crags very tricky. Towards the end of our stay we were able to get up the gorge in the afternoon when the mist was long gone and the birds more active even if still a long way off, especially for the 300mm lens. Heat haze now became the issue.
The Booted Eagles in the same valley were for some obscure reason very hard to get a decent pic of even though they were often nearer than the vultures and soared around a little closer and more slowly. Not sure how we failed to get pin sharp pics but we did.
Some mornings we walked through the woods to the neighbouring beach, Cala Maracella, where we came across numerous well hidden Sardinian Warblers and flushed this Hoopoe a couple of times from the side of the track before finally getting at least a hint of it on to the SD card after we'd followed it down a dark side track through the denser part of the oods early one morning.
An afternoon wander up to the barranco had us stopping to look mat the Bee Eaters again and in the bankside reeds along the oppostie side of the little river a movement caught our eye. There were two birds this one looked like a Reed Warbler but was maybe a bit richer in colour - could have been the Mediterranean light - and had orangy legs and was making all manner of odd calls we've never heard a Reed Warbler do so can only imagine it's probably a Marsh Warbler.
The other bird in the same bush turned out to be a Chiffchaff and when that disappeared deep into the bush a small bird shot out and flew away over the reeds before dropping in which we thought was probably a Fan Tailed Warbler but we'll never know for certain. We didn't see any others during our holiday.
One bird we did see frequently and were numerous up the gorge were Mediterranean Flycatchers.
They were tricky to get pics of for the Challenge as they often perched on man-made objects rather than the nearby trees and bushes, for example wire fences round the fields and the slide/climbing frame in the children's playground.
Even trickier were the ubiquitous Sardinian Warblers they just don't  like to come out of  deep cover at all. And when they do they're always against the light and constantly on the move.
A couple of days of car hire saw us on the road seeing the sights. One trip on a damp start and windy day took us up to the picturesque town/village of Fornells on the north coast where a lonely Shag was sat on a windswept rock. Thank goodness it allowed a fairly close approach as we'd totally failed to  in frame in a very wavy Cala Maracella the previous day. 
Back up the barranco we were having trouble photographing the local lizard catching Kestrel and both perched and soaring Booted Eagles when we saw this largish pale warbler skulking in a bush on the other side of the track.
Unsure of its identity we sent afew snaps to regular mainland Spain visitor AB who confirmed it as a Western Olivaceous Warbler, a World Lifer for us although we have seen the Eastern species in Greece.
Our final new bird photographed for the Challenge was probably the trickiest of them all. Seen daily and sometimes extremely well in lovely light but so so camera shy. As soon as we stopped and even thought about lifting the camera they were off, the only time they were anything like approachable was in the gloom of early morning. I give you one of the family of very twitchy Woodchat Shrikes. The extra reach of the 600mm would been a boon for this species.
All those goodies brought our Challenge tally up to 174. 
It wasn't all birding after a slow tart we began to find numerous Italian Wall Lizards but totally forgot to look for snakes -how did we manage that???
Butterflies were numerous too especially Painted Ladies but with the warmth were flitting here and there very quickly but we did catch up with a couple of Clouded Yellows, a snazzily bright Iberian variety of our own Speckled Wood and most difficult of all the Long Tailed Blue.

Between refreshing dips in the hotel pool we spent an hour or so a couple of days watching the Hummingbird Hawkmoths going about their business.We took hundreds of pics and got about a dozen worth keeping. Here's a couple, have a look on our Flickr site (link on right) for the rest.

A Shieldbug type thingy was also lurking in one of the poolside flowerbeds.
The allure of Menorca are its fabulous coves and beaches and suffice to say we went snorkeling. Unfortunately the thunderstorms making the water murky wasn't conducive to underwater photography. Here's a couple grotty snaps - more should appear on our Flickr site in due course as we pull stills from the numerous video clips we took, there might even be some short videos for your delectation too.
Mixed fish
Striped Sea Bream  - these things nip if you stand still too long
Painted Comber - a fish that is both male and female at the same time
 So that little lot brings us almost up to date, we hope you've enjoyed our Mediterranean musings.

Where to next? We've had a couple of local safaris since we got back to tell you about - if we remember to put finger to keyboard that is...apologies for gooing of fthe radar in recent weeks.

In the meantime let us know who's been soaring around your outback